Robert Browning's Youth


Browning was born in Camberwell, a suburb of London, England, on May 7, 1812, the first son of Robert and Sarah Anna Browning. His father was a man of both fine intellect and character, who worked as a well-paid clerk for the Bank of England. Robert's father amassed a library of around 6,000 books, many of them obscure and arcane. Thus, Robert was raised in a household of significant literary resources. His mother, with whom he was ardently bonded, was a devout Nonconformist as well as extremely musically talented. He had a younger sister named Sarianna, also gifted, who became her brother's companion in his later years. As a family unit they lived simply, and his father encouraged his interest in literature and the Arts.

In childhood, he was distinguished by a love of poetry and natural history. By twelve, he had written a book of poetry which he later destroyed when no publisher could be found. After attending several private schools he began to be educated by a tutor, having demonstrated a strong dislike for institutionalized education.

Browning was a fast learner and by the age of fourteen was fluent in French, Greek, Italian and Latin as well as his native English. He became a great admirer of the Romantic poets, especially Shelley. Following the precedent of Shelley, Browning became an atheist and vegetarian, both of which he later decided to stop being. At age sixteen, he attended University College London, but left after his first year. His mother’s staunch evangelical faith circumscribed the pursuit of his studying at either Oxford University or Cambridge University, then both only open to members of the Church of England. He had substantial musical ability and he composed arrangements of various songs.

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